Which Books are the Heavenly Doctrines
October 17, 2016 § Leave a comment
The question has come up on Facebook (Heavenly Doctrines – https://www.facebook.com/heavenly.doctrines 9/17/2016), and now the Facebook group New Church – https://www.facebook.com/groups/2521482246/ (9/21/2016) about which books are the Heavenly Doctrines.
My short answer, and in my opinion the most honest is that I don’t know.
The issue is often presented as if there is a clear demarcation between those works which Swedenborg published and those he did not. The reality is that boundary is not quite that clear. There are fuzzy edges. To further complicate the issue, one must also choose a date from which one is going to determine which books are the Heavenly Doctrines.
Let me add that I don’t think that this is a doctrinal issue. That probably sounds a bit strange. Think about it.
There are no passages which unequivocally state that these particular books and no others are the Heavenly Doctrines.
There are many passages related to Swedenborg’s preparation, enlightenment, and mission. Which of these are you going to include in your determination of the canon of the Writings? That will depend on a decision you have already made about which books are the Heavenly Doctrine. In other words, you have to answer the question before you know which evidence to consider, and surely which evidence you accept as being valid will affect the answer you get.
There are no passages which unequivocally state that these particular books and no others are the Heavenly Doctrines. I think, however, that most people (if not all) decide which books (or portions of them) are Divine revelation based on some intuition, gut feeling, or desire for some kind of order or compatibility; and then find passages which confirm this.
Kurt Simons illustrates this problem nicely:
A central argument that has been made in defense of the unpublished work as authoritative is that Swedenborg wrote in Apocalypse Explained 1183 that “What has come from the Lord has been written, and what has come from angels has not been written” and similar statements in Spiritual Diary/SpiritualExperiences 1647 and 4034. However, since Apocalypse Explained and Spiritual Diary/SpiritualExperiences are unpublished works, the authority of these statements is open to question.
The decision about which books are the Heavenly doctrine has already been made, and so the evidence from unpublished works is rejected. In pointing this out, I am not seeking to be critical of Kurt. The reverse happens as well, people accept the unpublished works as being part of the Heavenly doctrines so they include passages from these works as evidence.
My point is that the question of which books belong to the Heavenly Doctrines is not a doctrinal issue because the question is answered before the evidence is gathered. I don’t think that this can be avoided.
If the issue is decided before the doctrinal evidence is considered, how is it being determined? The answer, to my mind, is some kind of perception, intuition, gut feeling, or desire (perhaps for a certain kind of order, or desire for agreement with certain values and beliefs.
My ignorance, however, has not stopped me from having some thoughts about this question. It is a question that I have thought about for over 40 years.
Intellectually I have always made a distinction between the published works and the unpublished works. The published works being more Divine or authoritative than the unpublished works. I have never been able to say or explain in what way the published works were more Divine or more authoritative.
In practice, however, I have never made a distinction between the published and unpublished works. I have read, studied, and quoted from both without distinction.
So what do I really believe? I think my actions speak louder than my words.
Does it really matter which books we decide are the Heavenly Doctrines? Both the published and the unpublished works teach that there is one God, the Lord Jesus Christ; that we must examine ourselves and shun our evils as sins against the Lord. In other words, as long as we live by what is taught in the books we decide are the Heavenly Doctrines, we will be saved.
Determining the canon of the Heavenly Doctrines, that is, which books are the Heavenly Doctrines, is a matter of setting boundaries. The boundaries tell you which books you include and which one you exclude. Ideally, boundaries are fixed. This is why physical landmarks are often used. In reality, not all boundaries are fixed. Rivers are clear demarcations, but they meander over time. Oceans are a great boundary, but their levels and rise and fall.
In discussions of the canon of the Heavenly Doctrines, the boundary most often mentioned is the distinction between the published works and the unpublished works. This boundary is popular. It is simply. It is binary. It is easily determined. Life, however, is complex. In reality, the boundary between the published works and the unpublished is not as simple, as binary, or as easily determined as it seems.
For the sake of simplicity and discussion, let us take the so-called “small canon” or list of which books are part of the Writings, and see what boundaries it would take to get these books. Here is the list of “small canon” books:
Simply stating that only the published works are valid does not work. Swedenborg wrote and published a variety of works. For example:
- The Inlaying of Marble (1763)
- A revision of his 1722 pamphlet on Deflation and Inflation (1771)
- And in 1754 he published the third edition of the following works:
- Chemistry and Physics
- Iron and Fire
- Finding Longitudes
To exclude these works from the “small canon,” we must modify the boundary “published works” to specify only those published works which are theological in nature. This modification often goes unstated as it is often assumed that no one wants to include Swedenborg’s non-theological works as part of the Writings. But just has boundaries are sometimes disputed by political entities, so too is the need to distinguish theological works from non-theological works. The Rev. E. E. Iungerich wrote:
. . . It matters not what part of the perfect system of works from 1710 to 1771 first touch our educated vision . . . (Journal of Education , vol. XIV No. 4, April 1915, p. 157 ; The Development of New Church Science by Rev. E. E. Iungerich)
. . . Through the crowning work from 1710 to 1771 given in His Second Advent). All this monumental work of Work of Swedenborg is not technically the Word of Revelation come at by an interior or a priori way; for this evidently did not begin before the DREAM BOOK, HISTORY OF CREATION, and ADVERSARIA [Word Explained]; but what preceded these is assuredly a system of correlate truth come at a posteriori; and even this deserves to be called the Word, to make use of the language of the INDEX BIBLICUS:–“The ears shall hear the Word behind him (Isaiah XXX: 21), for the sciences, which are the Word from the back, which then instinct [should be instruct – See NCL 1915: 472], because the life of faith or the faith in them, for they are servile or services.” (Ibid. p. 160) See also New Church Life 1908: 699-701.
As bizarre as Mr. Iungerich view may seem today, let me say, that his point of view is as well supported by passages as any other view.
You might think that the boundary of “published theological works” clearly defines the “small canon,” but you would be wrong.
In a letter to Oetinger dated November 8, 1768, Swedenborg enclosed a brief explanation the Natural and Spiritual Sense of the Word. Oetinger published the Latin 3 times in Swedenborg’s lifetime. It was published and it is theological, but it is not included in the “small canon!” Well, that is an easy fix. We will just specify that when we say published, we mean published by Swedenborg himself.
That should take care of everything. Right? Wrong!
In 1760 Ernesti wrote a negative review of AC. This was followed in 1763 by a negative review of the Four Doctrines. And in 1766 Ernesti reviewed AR. In 1767 Ernesti review a work by Dr. H. W. Clemm which had a chapter on Swedenborg. Clemm had proposed three possible ways one could understand the writings of Swedenborg:
- They could be fantasies
- They could be tricks of evil spirits
- Or they could be the truth
Clemm led the reader to doubt the first two possibilities. Ernesti, however, had a fourth possibility:
Beside the three possibilities which Dr. Clemm suggests,-that Swedenborg’s narrations are either mere phantasies, or the blinding tricks of an evil spirit, or the truth,-there is a fourth solution which undoubtedly is the correct one. They may be fictions by which he would deceive the world, and he may well laugh in his heart-as, indeed, they deserve,-at the people who believe in him and who do not understand his art. Are there not in Church History plenty of similar cases of fictions such as these, by which their authors have deceived simple and credulous people, or persons inclined to mystic dreaming, in order to gain fame and standing for their erroneous notions in religion? And have they not also achieved the desired effects? And our age is becoming ever more gullible to such deception, when even learned persons are found to be so much bent upon such dreams and phantasies, and are so easily convinced. SWEDENBORG knows this well enough.” (NCL 1912: 204, 205)
John Christian Cuno sent this critique to Swedenborg. This was the first time that Ernesti mentioned Swedenborg by name. Swedenborg was not happy with Ernesti’s “insults” and wrote a brief response which refers to a Memorable relation about Ernesti (TCR 137). Swedenborg sent this response to Cuno and asked him to print it and distribute it to his friends. Cuno did not do this. Swedenborg also sent two copies of his response to Dr. Beyer in Sweden and authorized Beyer to communicate his response to Ernesti to the members of Consistory. When Swedenborg had learned that Cuno had not distributed his response to Ernesti, Swedenborg printed it himself and distributed to his friends.
This letter is not part of the “small canon.” One way that we could modify the boundary of published works to exclude this letter, is to accept only those works which Swedenborg published which are intended for the general public as opposed limited number of readers.
Now at long last, we have the “small canon!” Or do we? It seems to me, that this last boundary or rule, could also be used to exclude the Intercourse between the Soul and Body which is included in the “small canon.
Intercourse between the Soul and Body was published in London in 1769. James Hyde in his Bibliography notes:
Swedenborg “left London early in September , and was in Stockholm again in the next month. So that the above work [Intercourse between the Soul and Body] so was printed, privately, in July or August in the year of 1769: for it was translated into English in September of that year. The book was not ‘published’ in the general acceptance of the word, but distributed privately. Copies were sent to various scientific societies and universities of England and France.” Hyde # 2536.
Although Intercourse between the Soul and Body was printed, it was not published with the same audience in mind as the rest of the published works. Should a privately distributed work count as a published work? It usually is. It was not available to the public in the way other works were. TCR 33 does mention the work as being published in London in 1769 in the same breath as Divine Love and Wisdom. Perhaps, however, Swedenborg is referring to the English translation, which was also done that year, and which would have been available to the public.
Yes, I can see why one would want to keep ISB and not the reply to Ernesti. That, however, seems to be a matter of a judgment call. I am hard press to think of a rule or boundary that eliminates the reply to Ernesti but keeps ISB.
Swedenborg wrote a wide variety of theological material and published some of it in various ways.
- There are major works of theology published for the general public, like the Arcana or TCR.
- There is the Intercourse between the Soul and Body which he published and had distributed privately.
- There is Swedenborg’s reply to Ernesti which has minimal theology and which he published and appears to have distributed privately.
- There are letters and papers with more theology, such as the Natural and Spiritual Sense of the Word which others published in his life time.
- There fair copies works (which normally would have been sent to the printers) which Swedenborg had intentions of publishing, but did not; such as AE and the indices to AC and AR
- There is the rough draft of Prophets and Psalms which Swedenborg quotes from in different published works
- of published works
- There are rough drafts of published works
- There are outlines and notes for works that were published
- There are indices, notes on research material such as an index to Catholic teaching and an index to the Book of Concord
The point here is that Swedenborg’s works run the full length of a continuum, rather than fitting neatly into a binary division of published vs. unpublished. At the top of the list, we have works which are clearly published and should be considered to be part of the Heavenly Doctrines. At the bottom of the list, we have books works which were not published, and probably should not be considered to be part of the Heavenly Doctrines. As we get to the middle of the list things get more muddled. It becomes increasing difficult to determine whether or not a work should be counted as part of the Heavenly Doctrine.
The second point I wanted to illustrate was that no matter how we defined and modified the boundaries between works that are a part of the Heavenly Doctrines and those which are not, is that we run into issues.
The third point is that boundaries and rules we use to define the canon of the Heavenly Doctrines are not the source of our decision but merely the confirmations. In order to know which rules or boundaries were acceptable, we already had to have made a decision about which books were part of the Heavenly Doctrines.
Now, we will turn our attention to one last boundary that we have not yet discussed, and that is the start date for Swedenborg’s work as a revelator. This is an important boundary because anything before it cannot be a Divine revelation. The exception to this is the view of E. E. Iungerich. Mr. Iungerich held that the Writings covered everything Swedenborg wrote or published from 1710 to 1771. He acknowledges that Swedenborg’s call in the 1740’s meant that what was written after that date was different kind of revelation than what was written before; but both deserved to be called the Word.
Let us start this exercise by adhering to the “small canon,” since the unpublished material is:
- Not “a fully authoritative Divine revelation”
- “a source of incorrect information”
- “not a reliable source of information about what God actually teaches”
The following works tell us that Swedenborg’s call was in 1744:
- AC 6200
- EU 1
- HH 1
- DLW 355
- And LJ cont. 35
However, in the following passages we learn that his all was in 1743:
- CL 1
- CL 419
- TCR 157
- TCR 851
Heaven and Hell 130 also tells us that the opening of Swedenborg’s mind was a gradual process. We are not given any details of this progression. It seems only logical that this process was completed by the time Swedenborg published his first theological work.
- It so happens that the first theological work which Swedenborg published after 1744 was The Worship and Love of God. This work, however, is not part of the “small canon!”
The Worship and Love of God is generally considered to be the first work that is was written between the end of Swedenborg’s scientific and philosophical period and his work as revelator and servant of the Lord. Though published, it is an unfinished work. The beginning of part three was prepared for publication but never published. It is a philosophical plea to worship and love God in the style of poetry. It is unlike any of Swedenborg’s other works.
I can certainly understand why one would not want to include The Worship and Love of God in the “small canon.” But, from what I can see, based only on information gathered from the “small canon,” there is no basis for excluding it. Yes, we can modify what we mean by a published work to exclude anything written in the style of poetry; or any work not finished. But these rule modifications are not based on any teaching in the “small canon.”
It is interesting to compare The Worship and Love of God with the Apocalypse Explained:
|Written 1744-1745||Written 1758|
|Published 1745||Unpublished, but a fair copy was made for the printer|
|Not like the Writings||Like the Writings|
Most people would accept the Apocalypse Explained as part of the Writings before they would accept The Worship and Love of God. But WLG was published (after Swedenborg’s call), and AE was not published.
Kurt Simons, the author of Which of Swedenborg’s books are Divine Revelation? excludes WLG from the “small canon.” He does so because his start is after its publication. Kurt’s starting date for Divine revelation is January 23, 1748! Ironically, this is not a date found anywhere in the “small canon!” To get to this date, Kurt uses 3 separate unpublished works!
First, Mr. Simons uses a letter written by Swedenborg G. A. Beyer on November 14, 1769. In this letter Swedenborg’s discusses how he was prepared to be a revelator:
“From my fourth to my tenth year I was constantly engaged in thought upon God, salvation, and the spiritual diseases of men; and several times I revealed things at which my father and mother wondered … From my sixth to my twelfth year I used to delight in conversing with clergymen about faith, and that the life of faith is love…” (Letter to G. A. Beyer, Stockholm, Nov. 14, 1769. Tafel, II, 279-280)
From this, Mr. Simons infers that Swedenborg was undergoing preparation his whole life. Swedenborg’s work on the Apocalypse Explained, for example, was preparation for other works which he later published.
Mr. Simons then uses a quote from the Index Biblicus and the Spiritual Diary (or Spiritual Experiences) to fix a date when Swedenborg was able to published works which were fully authoritative in their revelation.
When he arrived in Amsterdam in 1747, in the period just before he began to write theArcana, he wrote in a manuscript, “1747, August 7, old style. ‘There was a change of state in me into the heavenly kingdom in an image.'” “This note suggests he had experienced a profound change in his spiritual status on that day. It is intriguing that he did not begin publishing theological material until after this change had taken place.” (quoted, with translation modified by J.S. Rose, in F.S. Rose, “Swedenborg’s Manuscripts,” in J.S. Rose (ed.)Emanuel Swedenborg. Essays for the New Century Edition on His Life, Work and Impact. Swedenborg Foundation: West Chester, 2005, pp.131, emphasis added)
- In that same period, he made a fundamental change in his usage: “In all the theological works up to this time [i.e. during the pre-published works era], the name he used for Christ was “God Messiah.” He ended this practice on January 23, 1748, when he abruptly shifted to the more traditional term, “The Lord,” the term that he used to the end of his life. Right at the outset of the first volume of his published works he explains what he means by that term.
“From this point on, the term Lord is used in only one way: to refer to the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, and the name “Lord” is used without any additions.” (Arcana Coelestia)
(F.S. Rose, “Swedenborg’s Manuscripts,” in J.S. Rose (ed.) Emanuel Swedenborg. Essays for the New Century Edition on His Life, Work and Impact. Swedenborg Foundation: West Chester, 2005, pp.131, emphasis added.)
Personally, I have no problem with the change of state noted in the Index Biblicus and the change in terms noted in the Spiritual Diary as noting a significant turning point in Swedenborg’s preparation. Nor do I have any problem with much of the unpublished works being preparation for what was published (although I don’t think that this necessarily precludes the unpublished works from having full Divine authority).
Mr. Simons pleads that there is an “urgent need – to simply go back and start over, and build an ‘All things new’ (Revelation 21: 5) set of doctrine and practice based purely on the published works?” Yet he, himself, does not do this to establish his “small canon.”
I have picked on Mr. Simons, perhaps unfairly, to be a foil by which to show that none us, choose which books we believe to be part of the Writings based on Swedenborg’s teachings. In fact, we cannot do this. We have to choose which books are part of the Heavenly Doctrines before we can choose which of Swedenborg’s teachings we will accept. Consider the teaching in AE 1183:
This it has been given me to see, and from it to perceive clearly what comes from the Lord and what from angels. What has come from the Lord has been written; what has come from the angels has not.
If we have already predetermined that AE is part of the Writings, then we can use this teaching to support that view. If we have already decided that AE is not part of the Writings, then we will not consider that teaching to be valid.
We choose which books are the Heavenly Doctrines based on some perception, intuition, gut feelings, or preconceived idea. Consequently, we really cannot “prove” our position on this question.
There have been a wide variety answers to the question which books constitute the Heavenly doctrines.
There have been those who advocated anything (theological or otherwise) after 1710.
More often the starting points for the Writings are later than 1710. More typically one of the three dates for Swedenborg’s call (1743, 1744, and 1745). T. M. Gorman accepted 1743 and argue that Worship and Love of God, which was published 2 years later is part of the Writings. See New Church Life, “On the Worship and Love of God,” 1885, page 109.
Among those who accept the unpublished works as Divine revelation there have been some who would start counting with:
- History of Creation
- The Adversaria or Word Explained
- The Spiritual Diary
When it comes to the Spiritual Diary, some only accept what was written after Swedenborg stopped using “God Messiah” and started using “Lord.”
Should Swedenborg’s letters which have theological content be regarded as Divine revelation? I certainly know ministers who regard them as part of the Writings.
There are, of course, those who follow the “small canon.” But not everyone accepts all the published works as Divine revelation.
The work Conjugial Love has been particularly contentious. Some have argued that the second part of the book is not Divine revelation and others that the whole work is not a Divine Revelation. The view that whole work is not Divine revelation is based on a letter which Swedenborg wrote to Beyer on Oct. 30, 1769, wherein he states that the work on Conjugial Love “is not theological but rather moral in nature.”
I have raised the question as to whether or not Intercourse between the Soul and Body should be regarded as a published work.
As you can see there have been many points of view about which books are the Heavenly Doctrines.
I have to agree with Nathan Cole. Barring a bizarre and purely arbitrary selection of books, you are going to learn that Jesus Christ is God and Lord and that you should shun evils as sins against Him. Thus, what you or I or someone else believes about which books are the Writings does not matter much.
For over 45 years I have intellectually believed, or have been prone to believe that the Writings are best represented by the “small canon.” It is a neat, comfortable point of view. Since I have always used the unpublished works, I have developed this complex picture of the Writings in my mind. It is hard to describe because I do not have a precise picture of it myself.
I see a three-dimensional shape of the Writings that include all the published works. This shape has regions and the borders between regions are fuzzy. Thus ISB near the border of the works which were not published, perhaps even crossing into that region. AE tends to come into the region of the published works. Most works tend to fall clearly into one region or another.
Where is my starting point? I have no trouble accepting the Spiritual Diary, and sometimes I even lean towards accepting the Word Explained. I have no interest in the Worship and Love God or any of the philosophical and scientific works. I am not incline to include Swedenborg’s letters or the Natural and Spiritual Sense of the Word.
One thought I have had recently is that the Divine which flows into all the theological works since 1745 is the same. The Divine is equally present in al the works, but each work receives that Divine in its own unique way. The published works more fully than the unpublished.
If this view seems jumbled, it is because it is. And there a good reason It is jumbled.
While I have always held intellectually that we should distinguished between the published and unpublished works, in practice I have not. I firmly believe that we should distinguish. Further, we should take note of when something is a rough draft, or an outline, or just some notes. But in practice, I have never done this. I am not sure how one could do it, or what the results would look at if one actually did do it. Making such distinctions is a great idea, but is it even possible?
So here I am. I believe one thing and I do another. So what do I really believe? The obvious answer is that my actions speak louder than my words. I believe that both the published and unpublished works are Divine Revelation. Why? Because when I read the Writings, published or unpublished, I hear the Lord speaking to me.
This is my perception of the Writings. I am choosing not to justify my canon with passages from the Writings, my perception is not based on any logical and coherent set of teachings. I believe because of what I feel when I read.